Red-light camera tickets and insurance rates

By , Posted on 30 January 2013

red light cameras and car insuranceSignificantly fewer drivers are running red lights at intersections equipped with red-light cameras, according to data compiled by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The IIHS over the past year has been studying red-light running rates at several Arlington, Va., intersections equipped with cameras.

To calculate how the cameras affected violation rates, researchers videotaped traffic during the warning period, a month after ticketing began and again after a year.

One year after the start of ticketing, the rates of a red-light running violation at the camera locations went down. Violations occurring at least .5 seconds after the light turned red were 39 percent less likely than would have been expected without cameras. Violations occurring at least 1 second after were 48 percent less likely, and the odds of a violation occurring at least 1.5 seconds into the red phase fell 86 percent, says the IIHS.

Cameras, controversy, penalties and insurance

The Arlington test project mirrors data from another IIHS report issued in 2011 that studied 14 large cities with longstanding red-light cameras. That assessment found that fatal crashes caused by motorists running red lights plummeted by 24 percent between 2004 and 2008. (See: "5 driving innovations that save lives.")

Despite such data suggesting that the cameras make for safer roads, the use of red-light cameras remains somewhat controversial.

The Federal Highway Administration found that red-light cameras likely cause more rear-end crashes.  Additionally, some consumer advocacy groups have raised concerns about outsourcing the process to for-profit companies. (See: "Study attacks use of red-light cameras.")

Just recently San Diego bowed out of its red-light camera program. "San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has decided to take down the city’s red-light cameras, saying data didn’t show that the program has decreased accidents or raised safety awareness in the city," says a report by the Claims Journal.

So, do you even know if your state uses red-light cameras? And what happens to your car insurance rates if you get nabbed by one?

There are 40 states that allow automated traffic enforcement. In 24 states and the District of Columbia, red-light cameras penalize any driver who crosses the white line at the intersection while the light is red, even if by just a foot or two. But tickets are handled in different ways depending on state laws. Some states treat these tickets like a parking ticket, which is to say you pay it and that's the end of that. Others deem them to be moving violations, which could trigger points against your driver record and surcharges from your car insurance company. (See:  "Got a ticket? You could be paying for years.")

To find out the specific laws and penalties pertaining to automated enforcement, visit the Governors Highway Safety Association's speed and red light camera website.

In other red-light news, I find it impossible to write about this topic without humming the classic 70s song "Roxanne" by The Police. That's just how my mind works. I saw The Police live back in the day, and of course loved their performance of this tortured love song. Still, and you may mock me, one of my favorite renditions of "Roxanne" is by Juliet Simms, runner-up on season 2 of "The Voice." Before you judge me, watch it.

What do you think about red-light cameras? Are you in favor of them?  Why or why not? While we're at it, what's your favorite version of "Roxanne"? Share your thoughts!

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Des Toups

Des Toups

Managing editor

Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's.


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